Seattle University has been invited to join the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., announced June 14. At a press conference in the O’Brien Center, which the Seattle Times described as "raucous,"Father Sundborg said the move heightens SU’s visibility, strengthens the university’s academic and athletics programs, enhances the well-being of SU’s student-athletes and for the first time in a long time provides a pathway to post-season play and, yes, NCAA championships.
Since returning to Division I athletics in 2008, SU has been independent. Previously, the university was part of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) when it competed at the Division II level. As a member of the WAC, the university will compete against teams such as the University of Idaho, San Jose State and Utah State.
The Commons caught up with Athletic Director Bill Hogan–pictured above with Rudy the Redhawk and the ball from SU's last NCAA Division I championship appearance in 1958 at the June 14 press conference–to talk about what SU’s new affiliation with the WAC will mean for the university and its student-athletes.
The Commons: Why is the WAC an attractive conference for SU?
Bill Hogan: It’s an aspirational conference. They’ve reinvented themselves several times. It’s frankly amazing what they’ve been able to accomplish. One has to ask, what was Boise State 10 years ago? When you look at the accomplishments of Boise State, Nevada-Reno and some other schools in the WAC, they’ve thrived in that conference, and we look forward to having opportunities to do the same.
The Commons: What will our membership in the WAC provide that we don’t have now?
Bill Hogan: Most important to me is what it means for the welfare of our student-athletes. When you’re independent, you’re on the road a lot, and you’re always concerned about the effect on class schedules and missed class time.
Being in the WAC also gives us some predictability for scheduling, anticipating expenses and revenues, and it provides us more media exposure. ESPN has been a good partner for the WAC for many years, and we look forward to that relationship.
The Commons: What do you think are some of the reasons the WAC invited Seattle University into its conference?
Bill Hogan: Our success against the other WAC schools has been very impressive. Many of our team sports have done well and the success of our coaches and student-athletes has played a big role in this opportunity. There’s no question our soccer field is phenomenal, our men’s basketball playing at KeyArena is terrific and of course, the new O’Brien Center for Athletic Administration is special.
The Commons: When you look at the institutions that make up the WAC, it’s a pretty diverse group. What do you think SU specifically brings to the conference?
Bill Hogan: What I like about joining the WAC is that as a private, Catholic school in a state school-dominated league provides us with a level of uniqueness, and strategically that can be very important as we continue to build our program. To be one of a few instead of one of many—there’s something to be said of that from a marketing standpoint. We’re also looking forward to competing for the academic all-conference awards in the WAC as we did successfully in the Division II GNAC.
The Commons: Speaking of which, how do you see this move impacting academics at SU?
Bill Hogan: I think it’s fair to say that Seattle University has gone from a regional university to a national university with the help of the Division I transition. We’re on ESPN, we’re mentioned in the New York Times, USA Today, we’re mentioned in the Washington Post. In fact, in the local media, toward the end of the basketball season, Seattle U had nearly tripled the significant mentions that Gonzaga had. The notoriety we’ve received has had a positive impact on expanding the pool of all the students we are attracting.
The Commons: What excites you most about joining the WAC?
Bill Hogan: The major impact is that when you’re in a league, rivalries are created. You can start a rivalry with Idaho, San Jose State or Utah State. If you’re in a (conference) championship game with a school like Idaho a couple years in a row, the competition is intense. That situation can occur in a conference but not as an independent.